Nine candidates are running for four open seats in the Mountain View City Council race this November. The Talon asked the candidates a variety of questions centered around affordable housing, climate change and police reform.
John Lashlee is a community organizer, data scientist and a co-founder of the Santa Clara County Democratic Socialists of America. A self-described Democrat “in the vein of Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,” Lashlee’s activist roots have influenced his political style. His campaign is centered around affordable housing and racial justice.
Lashlee is an advocate for increased housing growth and has previously campaigned in favor of rent control and against the RV ban in Mountain View.
“I want to capitalize on our ability to build public housing,” Lashlee said. “My three main goals are building more private housing in denser areas, public housing for at-risk groups and transition housing so we can get homeless people off the streets and assign case workers to go from there. We’ve had an overreliance on waiting for developers to come and build housing, and we’ve also been too picky about what we approve. I’m the candidate saying we need to go bigger.”
At 32 years old, Lashlee says he’s particularly aware of the effects climate change could have on today’s young people in the future. His goal is to reach zero emissions in Mountain View before 2045 by closely analyzing the current situation.
“A major problem is that we don’t even measure our municipal emissions at the city level,” Lashlee said. “You can’t fix it if you don’t measure it. I’m a data scientist; that’s my duty.”
Regarding development on Mountain View’s bayfront, Lashlee wants to develop housing in the Shoreline area while fortifying it from the sea and preserving natural habitats. He also believes that addressing transportation as a climate issue is a major step toward mitigating climate change.
“Building up community shuttles, expanding bus routes and building protected bike lanes — those will be the first jumping off points,” Lashlee said. “In the medium term, it’s all about getting better, sustainable funding so we’re not constantly fighting financial threats to our public transportation.”
Lashlee’s comprehensive plan to bring about police reform in Mountain View is centered around transferring some of the current responsibilities and funding of police departments to other city officials. He cites the fact that the Mountain View Police Department (MVPD) has a more racially biased arrest record than 68 percent of California police departments as a sign of the necessity for reform.
“I want to reduce the over-policing of Black and Latinx people in Mountain View by looking at the duties of the MVPD,” Lashlee said. “We need to answer the question, ‘What can be done by other city officials?’”
Lisa Matichak, a longtime resident of Mountain View and sitting council member, is running on a platform of creating “great neighborhoods” through green space, accessible retail and community building. In 2019, Matichak took a leave from her corporate work to focus on her duties as Mayor (Mountain View’s rotating mayoral system means that a different member of the council is mayor each year).
Matichak said she is a strong supporter of affordable housing and feels the City is already “doing a lot” to help get more homes constructed.
“We’ve rezoned North Bayshore and East Whisman to accommodate almost 15,000 homes, and we also have almost 6,000 homes in the pipeline or under construction,” Matichak said. “If all the housing is built, it will increase the housing stock in Mountain View by 50 percent.”
Matichak is proud of the previous work the City has done and believes that it will be revisited when the current climate plan expires in 2021. The plan outlines a variety of independent action items for the City.
“The City has a sustainability action plan with 160 action items specifically aimed at reducing our carbon footprint,” Matichak said. “I am a little bit concerned about the size of the investment, but from my perspective, I want to make sure we don’t cut the investment in sustainability and that we look to other areas to make cutbacks if we have to. It’s now or never.”
Matichak added that she believes the City should focus on reducing carbon emissions instead of purchasing carbon offsets.
Matichak said she wants to “get a full understanding” of racial bias before committing to any plans, and is aware that there is data that points to disproportionate stops of people of color.
“I support taking a dig into the data to understand the patterns and why we see them and if there really are issues with race,” Matichak said. “I am also interested in taking a look into the roles and responsibilities of police officers. I want to make sure that before we make any changes, the groups that would take on current police responsibility would be ready for that.”
A member of the Mountain View–Whisman School District (MVWSD) Board, Jose Gutierrez entered the race with the hope of seeing more diversity on the council. A first generation high school and university graduate, Gutierrez said he gained the ability to self-assess, work with others to build consensus and solve problems. As an MVWSD Board member, Gutierrez has worked to reclassify English Language Learners so they would be able to take elective courses as well as accurately represent their abilities.
Gutierrez pointed to the fact that the current council has funded 144 housing units for MVWSD staff and 20 units for Mountain View city staff as an example of what the City should continue to do. Gutierrez hopes the City can work on public-private partnerships, specifically with Google, to bring housing and digital infrastructure to the city. Gutierrez believes that many building developers are delaying construction projects due to the coronavirus and thinks that, in the near future, the City may not approve any new affordable housing proposals.
“The latest trend has been to construct high-end, luxury apartments,” Gutierrez said. “Now that tech companies are going remote, they are moving out of those units. We only have one area with a lot of affordable housing.”
In parallel with new affordable housing, Gutierrez wants to build “green infrastructure” such as protected bike lanes and paths as well as increased green space. Transportation is the largest contributor to emissions in the city, and Gutierrez would like to see more essential businesses emerge so residents do not have to travel as far to access daily goods.
“I would like to have a forum to find out what it is that our young generation can think of,” Gutierrez said. “I want to hear these ideas, to see what else we can do outside of recycling and clean buildings. Simple things like planting trees and having more community gardens go a long way. We can promote the reduction of carbon levels, but outside of that I don’t really know much that they have tackled that issue in the larger scope of things adequately.”
“I look at the fire and police departments from a different perspective than most because I have family that are first responders,” Gutierrez said. “I am glad that there is an awareness of what is happening to minority communities. Right now there is a more genuine concern about minority rights and lives — it is about time. Stop data is just a starting point if we want to. Are they happening in majority-minority neighborhoods? Are the officers minority or not? We have got to dig deeper.”
A local activist, former state delegate and second-generation immigrant, Alex Núñez feels he’s well equipped to be a voice for underrepresented populations in the city.
“Since I got here, I’ve been working on the issues that are the most meaningful through various ballot measures,” Núñez said. “I helped get $15 minimum wage across Santa Clara County and fought the California Apartment Association, one of the most powerful lobbying groups in California, multiple times. As far as electoral politics, I have worked on Yes on Measure P and No on Measure D. Both passed with 70 percent support.”
“Within the last five decades, much of coastal California just stopped building housing,” Núñez said. “The majority of city councilors are homeowners, so coastal cities did not build housing.”
“We need to change the car culture and densify housing,” Núñez said.
Núñez wants to help eliminate the heat island effect from Mountain View by creating more reflective roads and rooftops. He would also like to see more bicycle infrastructure created, as he said the City needs to “incentivize not driving.”
Núñez says he has been pushing for a citizen oversight committee and is disappointed that the council has not implemented one; instead, the council has implemented a new Race, Equity and Inclusion council subcommittee.
“Our current mayor and vice mayor are very close to the Police Department,” Núñez said. “Our Vice Mayor’s lawn sign features the police sign. They really tried hard not to address policing. We need to have a citizen-led audit process.”
Núñez cited the fact that the MVPD pays a third-party corporation called LexiPol to generate their police policies. MVPD shares its policies with the Winslow Police Department in Arizona, in which an officer killed an unarmed native woman and got away with it.
A longtime Mountain View resident, Lenny Siegel said he’s been an activist his whole life. He is currently focused on housing but has taken interest in schools, transport and climate change in the past. Siegel staged his first run for council to create more housing in North Bayshore. He would like to ensure that vehicle residents are not kicked out.
Siegel wants to see his previous work on the North Bayshore plan implemented.
“The City needs to work harder with Google and the owners of the theatres to cooperate in North Bayshore,” Siegel said. “North Bayshore and East Whisman will help provide housing for those new jobs. We should build housing in areas already developed for commercial use.”
Siegel would like to create housing close to centers of employment aimed at cutting down on transport-related emissions.
“We need to generate clean energy so that we are using renewable energy that is exclusive to the City,” Siegel said. “I have solar panels, and I want to see those all over town. They don’t use up land and if the grid goes down, solar can be an emergency power source.”
Siegel said he wants to see more implicit bias training and points to recent stop data to support that.
“Police are used to enforcing against poor people’s crimes rather than rich people’s crimes,” Siegel said. “I support reallocating some funds to other programs, but I do not support reducing police salaries.”
In the past, Sally Lieber has served on the Mountain View City Council and the California State Assembly; she is returning to local politics after an 18-year hiatus because of her concern over community issues and policy implementation on a local level.
Lieber believes in the preservation of older housing and the redevelopment of certain areas as a means to preserve the character of Mountain View while addressing its housing crisis.
“What we really need is more compact housing that’s on bus routes and accessible to El Camino,” Lieber said. “There are a lot of opportunities for redevelopment. We can look at converting surface parking lots, and there are some pretty dilapidated one-story buildings.”
Lieber is against gentrification and believes that slowing gentrification will lead to more affordable housing.
“I support rent control for our mobile home parks and I support stronger measures to preserve them,” Lieber said. “We need to slow the rate of replacing affordable housing with unaffordable luxury housing, and really keep the character of Mountain View what it has been over many years.”
As a member of the advisory board of the Bay Restoration Authority, Lieber said she is familiar with efforts on the bayfront to prevent environmental collapse.
“I would not support more building that’s directly on the bay,” Lieber said. “There have been a number of recent proposals around that, and I’ve been very active in opposing those projects.”
Lieber also hopes to see speedier implementation of environmental regulations coming from state authorities.
“It’s always amazing to me how so many good environmental bills will come up at the state level, and there will only be one or two local governments in the Bay Area who support them,” Lieber said. “We should be a part of that in Mountain View.”
Lieber believes that police bias is a long-standing issue in Mountain View and would like to address it by giving people access to other city workers when facing certain crises, specifically those related to mental illness.
“Every time somebody says to defund the police, people get excited and start pointing fingers in a lot of wrong directions,” Lieber said. “To me, it’s about shifting the paradigms. For the families that have a family member with mental illness, it does not help them at all to have people with guns show up at their house. It’s all about a shift in how we do things.”
Lieber also supports stronger bias training for police officers.
“We can’t just tell officers to be colorblind because colorblindness doesn’t work,” Lieber said. “What we need is people who are cognizant of the impact of color, and we need real accountability.”
Pat Showalter is running for City Council again after serving one term from 2015 to 2018. A civil engineer and longtime resident of Mountain View, Showalter is running a campaign based on pragmatic solutions to the city’s issues.
Showalter said that since the 1990s, she’s been a housing advocate in Mountain View, supporting more affordable housing — especially in the North Bayshore area north of Highway 101.
“My greatest accomplishment on the City Council was the zoning plan for the North Bayshore,” Showalter said. “We got 2,500 housing units built in Mountain View while I was on the Planning Commission, and there’s quite a bit more in the pipeline.”
Showalter has been involved in creating a number of initiatives to help the homeless population in Mountain View find housing and plans to continue this work if elected.
“We got a safe RV parking program started, although it was very, very small,” she said. “We paid for a full time worker at the County to work in Mountain View to help them find housing and assigned a police officer to work with the homeless full-time.”
As a water engineer, Showalter has dedicated much of her life to preserving and protecting natural environments in the Bay Area. She is currently working on solutions to rising sea levels while serving on the Bay Conservation and Development Commission.
“It’s not like every town can do their own sea level rise protection, so we need to plan to make sure projects across the Bay Area tie in together,” Showalter said. “Oftentimes, as sea level rises, the first communities that are affected are poorer and more vulnerable. On the commission, we’ve put together some really important policies to make sure that these communities are involved in planning their own protection.”
Showalter supports electrification and wants to encourage active forms of transportation to adapt to rising temperatures.
“I would say electrification of existing housing, getting our fleet of vehicles to be electric and encouraging active mobility like riding bikes are three important things that we need to do locally,” Showalter said.
Showalter is in favor of increased transparency with issues between the police department and the community. She supports creating a citizen’s advisory council that would work with the police and the broader community to address issues with racial equality.
“Right now, if there are incidents with the police, they are often handled very privately as personnel issues,” Showalter said. “That may be okay in a few situations, but for the most part, I think that kind of thing needs to be more public. If there are officers in our force that have recurring problems, we need to let them go.”
Showalter supports reassigning certain jobs handled by the police force to other social services.
“Particularly for calls relating to mental health issues, maybe involving domestic violence — those would be better handled by somebody who has more psychological or social work background,” Showalter said.
A five-and-a-half-year resident of Mountain View, Paul Roales currently works as a software engineer for Waymo. Roales grew up in the Midwest and was elected to the city council of West Lafayette, Indiana, in his 20s. He hopes to use experience from his career to address the inefficiencies and bureaucratic delays he sees on the current council.
Roales wants to solve Mountain View’s housing crisis by cutting down on bureaucratic processes and expediting the construction of housing units.
“Right now, something like 15 percent of the cost of new housing projects in our area is just the process of getting the projects approved,” Roales said. “It takes so long to get new projects approved, and that’s just an unnecessary cost. It’s just bureaucracy. If we could reduce the cost of housing by 15 percent tomorrow, everyone would love that.”
Roales also supports the construction of housing projects in the North Bayshore area.
“Four or five years back, the City approved building 10,000 residential units in the North Bayshore,” Roales said. “We need to make sure that those are built, and that they’re pretty far back from the green spaces on the bay we all love and enjoy.”
Roales believes that the council should lead the city in establishing and keeping track of climate change goals.
“I hope that when I’m on the council, we just stop buying cars that require gasoline or diesel for the city fleet, full stop,” Roales said. “Beyond that, I propose that we set emission goals for our city and meet quarterly to make sure we’re working toward those goals. We can’t just set them, forget and come back to them in five years when we realize we’ve missed them.”
Roales proposed instituting a variety of reforms to the MVPD to address issues with over policing.
“I would roll out a program so that in every police interaction, the police officer has to record the race, sex and other characteristics of the individual that is involved,” Roales said. “To extend beyond that, every time someone interacts with a police officer, they should get a postcard in the mail next week that asks about their experience. That way, we can quickly determine which officers are bullies not providing a high level of customer service and which ones are friendly.”
Roales is open to scaling back the duties and funding of the MVPD because he believes that it is currently overfunded.
“Right now, we spend more per resident than all of the cities around us,” Roales said. “And I wouldn’t say that people in Palo Alto or Sunnyvale feel unsafe because they spend less on their police departments. That’s a problem, but we need to go beyond that. There’s lots of examples of different types of calls where sending in guys with guns just isn’t the right response.”
The current mayor of Mountain View, Margaret Abe-Koga is the longest-serving member of City Council. Going into her fourth term, Abe-Koga hopes to continue implementing the plans she’s worked on during her previous experience on the council.
Abe-Koga touted the council’s past achievements in working to address the housing shortage and supports utilizing existing plans in the future.
“We’re continuing to do our part to allow for more housing construction in the city,” Abe-Koga said. “It’s going to be tricky with the recession because the government doesn’t control the actual building of the housing units; that’s up to the private developers.”
During her time on the council, the number of housing units selling below market rates in Mountain View has increased from 500 to 2,500. She hopes to build on that number by continuing to fund affordable housing projects.
“We charge fees from private rental developers and we use that money to partner with a nonprofit, affordable housing developer,” Abe-Koga said. “We have quite a few of those, and we have several other ways we fund affordable housing.”
Abe-Koga believes that climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing Mountain View. Between two of her terms as a council member, she helped start the nonprofit Silicon Valley Clean Energy (SCVE).
“Our big effort on SCVE was to create codes that would require all new buildings to be electric,” Abe-Koga said. “Through renewable energy sourcing, we have actually been able to see a reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions. We saw our first decline in 2018.”
Abe-Koga also supports efforts to clean up transportation systems in Mountain View. Currently, transportation makes up around 40 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions.
“With COVID-19, working on transit has been a little tricky, but hopefully things will change soon,” Abe-Koga said. “The City has committed to a telecommuting policy for our employees, and we’re asking other companies to do the same. Less traffic congestion means cleaner air, and we’re hoping we can keep that up post-pandemic.”
Abe-Koga believes that there needs to be more open communication between the MVPD and the community.
“In the summer, we created a subcommittee of the City Council on race, equality and inclusion,” Abe-Koga said. “We’ve also done something new called MVPDx, which is a short seminar with police that we’ve opened up to residents.”
Abe-Koga also considers the Police Department overburdened, and would like to see some of their responsibilities transferred to other groups.
“Our police department agrees that they do a lot that they feel like they shouldn’t be doing,” Abe-Koga said. “They’re handling mask enforcement, animal control and mental health issues, and many of us are looking at reallocating those types of responsibilities elsewhere.”
[Read about the Los Altos City Council candidates and the Mountain View–Los Altos School District Board candidates for this year’s elections.]